The San Francisco 49ers have managed somehow to contrive an offseason in which they see their window of opportunity closing while not being sure just how many hands are on the sill.
In other words, the process they like to think they control is running away from them, for more reasons than merely their own.
The things that link this team to the grand old days are now so few that one can ignore the nuances of how it has happened, squint real hard and say this team is full-bore starting over. To draw any other conclusion is to be, well, either blind, or blind crazy.
Whether it be Frank Gore (a team choice, based on the rules of free agency), Patrick Willis (a player’s choice, unless we find out that he was subtly pushed out), Colin Kaepernick (apparently going nowhere, but the fingerprints are either media members, his agents, 49er whisperers or Kaepernick himself), Michael Crabtree (unlikely to return under any circumstances) or Justin Smith (if he retires, he will have done the calculations himself independent of outside influences), a lot of cornerstones of this franchise have been pushed aside in the last couple of months.
And no, we will not veer into a 933rd rehashing of the Jim Harbaugh story. We know it so well that the only person still clinging to the spin-narrative is Jed York, and even he doesn’t believe it when he says it. He’s committed to the fiction, and so it goes.
But it’s all true. The 49ers are being perceived on both sides of the NFL industry wall as busting this down to the sheetrock and studs, whether it is all their doing or not. Even the Kaepernick rumors, which make no logical sense, did not come from whole cloth, so someone is putting it out that he is available for someone else’s taking.
The rumors stung so much that Trent Baalke had to leave his fortress of solitude to forcibly deny them, and he did so with record-breaking speed. This shows that someone in the York empire has finally figured out, at least momentarily, that not talking to the media is always worse than talking to the media, because the media is everyone and everywhere and absolutely abhors a vacuum. Even if the Kaepernick rumors really are plants or steaming nonsense, they create their own force, and Baalke finally figured it out, or had it figured out for him.
[RELATED: 49ers GM denies Kaepernick on trade block]
In any event, here is the new 49er narrative -- a massive rebuild in the offing, by choice, by circumstance and by massive and growing dissatisfaction -- and it will be repeated again and again until it becomes its own truth, reaching players, agents, other teams, ticket buyers and the people they read and listen to.
And who do you think that irritates most? Jed York. And who does Trent Baalke answer to ultimately? Jed York. And despite the damage their silence and brutally incompetent public relations sense has already done, who has to rethink the way they have approached this time in their careers?
It is open season on the 49ers, because the 49ers have pretty well asked for it. There isn’t a single thing they’ve done in the offseason that can be considered overwhelmingly encouraging, and the two new signings, Darnell Dockett and Torrey Smith, come with different kinds of baggage -- Dockett, because he missed last season and because his arrival hints at Smith’s retirement choice, and Smith because it reminds everyone that the 49ers can’t develop receivers for Kaepernick on their own.
Not only that, the Harbaugh narrative that dominated the entire offseason a year ago and the parking, access, pricing, atmospheric and botany problems of the new stadium has pretty much meant that the 49ers haven’t had many good days at all for the last eight months.
So how does this get fixed for them? How do they repair what they have done, and what has been done to them? The easy answer is “winning football games,” because football is America’s heroin and everybody likes a fix.
But more immediately, the 49ers can help themselves by acknowledging that being afraid of the outside world has only made their problems worse. Assuming Baalke was telling the truth and that Kaepernick is not available, his reaction time Sunday night is at least commendable. It is an acknowledgement that he finally understands, albeit slightly, how public the general manager’s job actually is, and that being a football wonk is only the most enjoyable part of the gig.
And if he isn’t telling the truth, and Kaepernick does get traded after Baalke’s denials? Well, then he and his boss are treating the audience with contempt, and the audience knows what to do about that. If Jed isn’t sure how that works, he should ask his dad.
Sort of now-ish.